Vikki Consiglio press conference

Eagles Landing Educational Research Committee chair Vikki Consiglio, at microphone, fields a question at a May 8 press conference at Eagles Landing County Club as, from left, committee members Lee Sexton, Tamica White, Bill Herndon and Virginia Dixon stand with her.

Prospects of a new municipality rising from Stockbridge and unincorporated Henry County property earned the proposed city of Eagle’s Landing its status as the Henry Neighbor’s 2018 newsmaker of the year.

Averaging a story every three weeks, the cityhood movement gained its most scrutiny in the days leading up to and including its referendum-enabling legislation passage during the last hour of the 2018 Georgia Legislature session in March.

High-profile coverage included lawsuits filed by Stockbridge beginning the week after Gov. Nathan Deal signed the bills into law in May and the referendums’ defeat at the polls in November.

Eagles Landing Educational Research Committee chair Vikki Consiglio said the history of the proposed 12-square-mile, 17,000-resident city of Eagle’s Landing began well before its official kickoff.

“The initiative started in late summer of 2016 in unincorporated Henry County,” she said.

The committee held its first forum in February 2017, followed by introduction of legislation by District 17 State Sen. Rick Jeffares, R-McDonough.

Consiglio said the Legislature set rules that all new city initiatives must follow.

“We formed our nonprofit board with a diverse group of citizens from all over the proposed area,” she said.

The committee then contacted the representatives and senators in the Henry County delegation, placed ads and notified county commissioners and Stockbridge Mayor Anthony S. Ford.

“Maps were drawn and a feasibility study was done,” Consiglio said. “Educational forums were held in over 22 communities over two years.”

One of the key selling features of the new city was that, like Stockbridge, Eagle’s Landing would have no property tax.

“We envision a dynamic city that features pristine, planned developments, premier amenities, responsive city services, strong code enforcement, public safety and much-needed parks and libraries,” Consiglio said at a press conference at Eagles Landing County Club on May 8, the day Gov. Nathan Deal signed the legislation.

The new city would have had a transition team appointed by Deal, begun operations Jan. 1 and held mayor and city council elections in March.

Intergovernmental agreements with governments like Henry County and Stockbridge would have continued services during the transition, according to Consiglio’s remarks at the press conference, and revenue would have come mostly from local option sales taxes and utility franchise fees.

Two sitting Stockbridge city council members, Elton Alexander and John Blount, would have found their residences within the new city limits, making them ineligible for their elected offices.

The councilmen pushed back, as did the city as a whole.

Stockbridge opposed the proposed new city’s plans on several fronts, including that no Georgia city had ever been created by de-annexing property from an existing one.

“We remain committed to the process of keeping Stockbridge together,” Ford said in a statement reacting to Deal’s signature. “This process is not over. A group of voters may make a decision in November whether or not to allow this unprecedented de-annexation of a community of people and businesses.”

Stockbridge held its own press conferences and forums.

On May 9, Ford said if victorious, the existing city intended to reconcile with the proposed one.

“(We) will have to reach out and try to mend these relationships as best as possible,” Ford said. “(We’ll) say, ‘Listen, we’re one Stockbridge, we’re one community; we can move forward together. Let’s make it work.’”

In the meantime, Stockbridge filed state and federal lawsuits to prevent the referendums provided for in the legislation appearing on ballots.

They named Henry County and Georgia officials as defendants, on grounds of unconstitutionality, voting rights violations and unfavorable financial repercussions.

The Georgia Supreme Court and the U.S. District Court allowed the ballot items to stand.

It all led up to a thrilling moment for the committee, Consiglio said.

“The citizens got to vote during the general election on the proposed city of Eagle's Landing,” she said.

But by 11:15 p.m. on Nov. 6, it was over. Between 57 and 70 percent of voters rejected the two referendums.

Consiglio said the battle was lost on the campaign trail.

“There was a lot of negative and false information being put out (at taxpayers’ expense) by those who opposed the city of Eagle’s Landing,” she said. “Many voters did not educate themselves on all of the facts, using only what they heard in the news as their source of information.”

Consiglio said many voters feared a property tax increase or school district change, although, she said, those are county matters.

“We were also outspent and out-lawyered and didn’t have access to the huge taxpayer bank account that the opposition had,” she said.

Stockbridge had paid its three law firms more than $882,000 to fight the new city, plus expenses for town halls, forums and promotional material.

After Election Night, Ford said in a statement Stockbridge was “excited and grateful.”

City Attorney Michael Williams announced the halt of legal action Nov. 29.

“We are now focused on moving forward as one united community,” he said in a statement.

The committee, meanwhile, took down its website and social media accounts.

Consiglio said she is not sure what is next for the Eagle’s Landing movement.

“It appears no one has a vision or plan,” she said.

Trying again is not in the cards for her, Consiglio said.

“Personally I will not, but might support an effort in the future of a group that would want to try,” she said.

If it succeeds, Consiglio, despite her leadership role in the 2018 campaign, said she will not run for mayor.

The area’s government representative remains District 4 County Commissioner Vivian Thomas, sworn into office in December after her general election victory over Republican opponent Pete Peterson.

New cities naturally grab attention and Georgia has had several successes in the spotlight.

Sandy Springs in Fulton County finally won cityhood in 2005. Brookhaven in DeKalb County incorporated in 2012; in the same county, Tucker converted from a community to a city in 2016. The cities of South Fulton in Fulton County and Stonecrest in DeKalb County came on line in 2017.

Not every effort passes.

LaVista Hills in DeKalb County failed to sway voters in 2016. Sharon Springs in Forsyth County made a run for it but lost at the polls in the May 2018 primary.

Other startups are on the horizon.

East Cobb may become Cobb County’s seventh municipality and has a feasibility study from Georgia State University under its belt.

The new city of Towne Lake may arise in Cherokee County.

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